Examining the antecedent and effects of servant leadership : the role of followers

  • Xinru WU

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Servant leadership (S-L) was first introduced by Robert Greenleaf (1977), and it is a leadership philosophy where leaders go beyond their self-interest to put their followers’ needs first. Servant leadership is becoming popular in practice, reflecting the calls for a new school of leadership to rise to the challenges of the changing business environment. However, it still lacks empirical support to help us better understand the antecedents and the effect of servant leadership on a range of follower and organizational outcomes. Therefore, this thesis aims to examine follower characteristics (follower proactive personality and person-supervisor (PS) fit) as the antecedents to predict servant leadership behaviors and how servant leadership behaviors foster follower work effectiveness.

I adopted a mixed method design, based on both quantitative and qualitative data to examine the antecedents and effects of servant leadership behaviors. I collected survey data from 328 participants (within 44 teams) from mainland China and conducted another 20 interviews in Hong Kong. This thesis integrates followership literature and the Conservation of Resources Theory to identify what kind of followers can elicit servant leadership behaviors and ultimately affect the consequences of the servant leadership behaviors. A two-level SEM is adopted to examine the relationships among follower proactive personality, follower PS fit, servant leadership, perception of job impact, and work effectiveness. Results show that followers with proactive personality and high PS fit promote servant leadership behaviors and that servant leadership behaviors induce followers’ perception of job impact, which in turn motivates followers to work more effectively. Servant leadership serves as a mediator of the relationships between the two antecedents and followers’ perception of job impact. Perception of job impact mediates the relationship between servant leadership behaviors and work effectiveness. Also, the sequential mediation effects of servant leadership and perception of job impact on the relationships between antecedents and work effectiveness are supported. Team member exchanges work as a moderator between the two antecedents and servant leadership behaviors. The qualitative data provide further support for the hypothesized model and depict detailed experiences of leaders and followers in the servant leadership context.
Date of Award26 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorRobin Stanley SNELL (Supervisor) & Shiu Ho Alfred WONG (Co-supervisor)


  • Servant leadership
  • Follower proactive personality
  • Person-supervisor fit
  • Followership
  • Conservation of resources theory

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